United Way issues the call early and often to everyone to “Volunteer” to promote education, income and health. United Way’s Education AmeriCorps VISTA Project is one example of how we also work with national partners and at the local level to make measurable progress in improving lives through volunteers that we train and support.
We are working with many others across the U.S. to increase the high school graduation rate nationally to 87 percent by 2018, and volunteers are essential to achieving that goal. United Ways are working with their lowest-performing schools and the surrounding communities to create opportunities for student success. While many United Ways work directly in and with the schools, their greatest contribution tends to be influencing the environment around the school to help turn it around and support student success.
The Corporation for National and Community Service is also engaged in this kind of work through its School Turnaround AmeriCorps Program. Our partnership with CNCS will further enable local United Ways throughout the United States to work with more AmeriCorps VISTAs to establish “early warning systems” in low-performing schools and use that data to better understand and coordinate community resources and volunteers to address these challenges and help students succeed. Our volunteer engagement team at United Way Worldwide will oversee and support the work of 44 AmeriCorps VISTAs by helping to recruit members; ensure they are successful by providing necessary resources, training and professional development opportunities; monitor, evaluate and promote project accomplishments; and provide other support to United Ways and VISTA members alike.
Five VISTA members have already started working with local United Ways, more will come on board throughout the year. Some will work with United Ways to develop and implement systems that track individual student data such as attendance, behavior and course performance to indicate the likelihood a student will drop out of school or fall behind academically. In addition, VISTAs will be involved in asset-mapping community services and helping to coordinate the response to early warning indicators, such as establishing volunteer reader, tutor, mentor programs, recruiting volunteers, organizing community based organizations to provide wraparound supports, coordinating in-school response teams, and other interventions.
In other communities, early warning systems already exist. In these cases, United Ways are commonly working with the schools to use the data from those systems in a strategic and effective manner. VISTAs would help these United Ways engage parents, teachers, and others in community conversations to supplement the data and better understand the root causes of academic challenges; build coalitions of schools, business, parents, government, and community and faith-based organizations; and work to engage individuals across the community to give, advocate and volunteer for student success.
Our goal is to increase the use of early warning systems, deepen community ownership of and involvement in strategies leading to improved student success, and strengthen coalitions and school-community partnerships focused on critical indicators with the outcome of improving student achievement.
The VISTA members will help United Way advance the common good in measurable, sustainable ways, but we also need your help. Everyone has a stake in helping students succeed. Learn more about our work in education, and please pledge to get involved by volunteering as a reader, tutor or mentor. Helping kids achieve in school today means a brighter future for us all. Live United.